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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Value of the Auctions

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I'm not totally opposed to the bi-annual New York contemporary art auctions. As flawed and disturbing as the scene around them can become, they do serve several useful purposes for collectors.

The previews for the sales give a brief glimpse of important work that is moving from one private collection to another, often providing a chance to see early work by living (and recently deceased) artists.

But more importantly, they provide a workout for the eye. It's always good to exercise the critical eye, and the previews provide a great opportunity to do it. I typically find myself walking quickly through the day sale preview saying to myself, "junk, crap, junk, awful, horrid, junk" when I'm stopped in my tracks by something that surprises me with a presence that's strong enough to rise above the garage sale ethos that these events have. Knowing that there is always going to be one, the previews offer a great opportunity to try to spot the needle in the haystack, the kernel of wheat among all the chaff, the diamond in the rough, or [insert your cliche of choice here].

Sure, as Jerry Saltz complains, the whole auction scene has its tribal aspects that have nothing to do with the art. But let's not forget that the auction houses do put on extensive exhibitions of contemporary art twice a year. It's all what you choose to make of it.

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